Delicious Damascus Cuisine Awaits Visitors to a Yucaipa Hole-in-the-Wall Eatery

Damasco Mediterranean Cuisine in Yucaipa gives Southern Californians the opportunity to indulge in delicious Syrian food. Photo from May 2020

Over the past decade, the Syrian capital of Damascus has been at the heart of one of the most complex and deadly conflicts of modern times, a devastating proxy war involving many global powers that has left more than a half million people dead and nearly 13 million people displaced from their homes.


The focus on Damascus has raised the global awareness of the metro area that at its peak had more than 2.7 million people and is widely believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, with metropolitan communities for at least 4,000 years, following existence as a small village for thousands of years prior.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

One of the first street names known in world history is Straight Street (shown at left), the main thoroughfare through Damascus designed when the city was under Greek control about 100 years before Christ. This nearly mile-long urban street is best known for being the location of a home that Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul) stayed in after having a supernatural experience en route to the Syrian capital.

Today, Straight Street is known as Midhat Pasha Street on its east half and Bab Sharqi Street on its west. It’s just one example of the contributions that Damascus has made to global urban society.

Damascus is a part of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, as well as secular global history.

Residents and visitors to Southern California can enjoy authentic Damascene cuisine at the most unlikely place: a small takeout-only eatery in the middle of a moldering residential neighborhood in the San Bernardino County foothill town of Yucaipa. This unique culinary option is available thanks to Damascus transplants Basel Rezek and his uncle, Josh Tandor.

Damasco Mediterranean Cuisine at 35045 Avenue D is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and offers delicious chicken and lamb kabobs, lamb chop, falafel wrap, mixed pickle and grape leaves, and other Mediterranean diet staples.

A delicious and balanced chicken-based meal from Damasco. Photo from May 2020

Unique Syrian accompaniments include the Aleppo peppers (named after Syria’s second largest city).

The simple establishment but delicious cuisine is no doubt in the tradition of the street vendors that Damascus is famous for.

In this challenging time for all small businesses, enjoying a meal from Damasco Mediterranean Cuisine – perhaps combined with a day trip to nearby Oak Glen or travels further east to Palm Springs – is a great way to explore a more positive side to a nation that has become one of the world’s trouble spots and expand your culinary knowledge and expertise at the same time.



Angeles National Forest is Open Again. One Must-See is the World’s Largest Bigcone Douglas Fir, Which Has Stood Since the Black Death.

Old Glory, the world’s largest and oldest bigcone Douglas fir, rises skyward from Mt. Baldy. The 173-foot specimen has stood since the 14th century. Photo from May 2020

Angeles National Forest – the national forest closest to metropolitan Los Angeles – began reopening many trails and campgrounds on May 16 that had been closed due to coronavirus. And as expected, thousands of Angelinos ascended to the beauty and diversion of Los Angeles County’s scenic mountain backdrop, while employing social distancing.

If you’re planning to visit the San Gabriels, a great destination is Mt. Baldy Village, accessible from the Pomona Valley and western Inland Empire through Mountain Avenue, which becomes Mt. Baldy Road.

Situated at an altitude of 4,193 feet, the village is a great stop on the way to the still-operating Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts near the summit of two-mile high Mt. San Antonio (also known as Mt. Baldy).

In addition to dining and supplies, hikers of every skill level will enjoy the cool deciduous forest accessible through a paved path (Bear Canyon Road) for the first mile before branching off into much more challenging dirt trails for experienced hikers seeking to explore the summit.

This much more leisurely start to the trail is a great trip in its own right, though be sure to respect that this runs through a residential neighborhood and, while hikers and day trippers are welcome on the trail, the surrounding land is private property.

With a rushing stream and lush vegetation, the scenery here might be more reminiscent of the Appalachian Mountains than Southern California, though the large conifers provided a distinctly mountain ambiance as well.

A near idyllic forest setting for a residential cabin in Mt. Baldy along Bear Canyon Road. Photo from May 2020
Only tiny patches of snow still remain on the peaks of Mt. Baldy in this photo from mid-May 2020.
Even without venturing on the longer hikes, the paved portion of Bear Canyon Road includes many great photo opportunities, such as this forest waterfall. Photo from May 2020

The World-Record Bigcone Douglas Fir

When hiking Bear Canyon Road, pay attention to the trees to the left. In front of one green patio-decked cabin is a 173-foot bigcone Douglas fir (scientifically Pseudotsuga macrocarpa), the largest such tree in the world.

Bigcone Douglas firs only grow in mountain areas between Santa Barbara County and San Diego County in Southern California and are part of the habitat for native black bears and deer.

Estimated to have stood for 600 to 700 years, this particular specimen, dubbed Old Glory, probably had its genesis during the 14th century A.D., the time when the Black Death ravaged Europe and the Mongol Empire disintegrated while the Ottoman Empire rose.

A roadside display provides photos and facts about the tree, its history and significance.

While not nearly as massive as the sequoias or coast redwoods further north in California, Old Glory is still a powerful reminder of the longevity and power in nature, providing a much-needed perspective on time and eternity.

Description of Old Glory on-site at Mt. Baldy. Photo from May 2020
The base of Old Glory, where patriotism and the wonder of nature converge. Photo from May 2020

Nordstrom Brought An Upscale Way of Life to Riverside, and Provision to My Family

Tyler Street entrance to Nordstrom Riverside. Photo from May 2020

After serving the clothing needs of high fashion residents of Southern California’s Inland Empire for nearly 29 years, the Nordstrom full line store at the Galleria at Tyler in Riverside is closing permanently, a victim of the coronavirus-induced recession that has devastated the world, especially the United States.

On May 7, 2020, company officials announced that 16 of their full line stores would never reopen while laying out plans for the eventual return of their other stores as the nation slowly emerges from shelter-in-place orders.

Nordstrom’s departure from the Galleria at Tyler will be a significant loss for the Riverside community, where the arrival of the Seattle-based retailer in 1991 marked the beginning of a more upscale identity for the city, the emergence of the community as a business, relocation and tourism destination in its own right between Los Angeles and Orange County to the west, San Diego to the south, and the desert and mountain resorts to the east. Continue reading

An Historic Bridge and the Source of Southern California’s Longest River Await Visitors to East Highland

The bridge spanning the Santa Ana River in east Highland. Photo from April 2020. 

At the far eastern edge of the Inland Empire’s San Bernardino Valley lies a more than century old steel bridge that for generations spanned the longest river in Southern California – the Santa Ana River.

Closed to vehicle traffic due to inability to handle the demands of the modern roadways, the Santa Ana River Bridge, also known as the Greenspot Road Bridge or the Iron Bridge, is now open to hikers, bicyclists and equestrians, who can marvel at the unique architecture of this 256-foot structure spanning the rocky wash of the Santa Ana River that in most times is dry but can turn into raging torrents during storms. Continue reading

It’s L.A. County, But the Angeles National Forest is Worlds Apart from the City. Jackson Lake is One Place to Explore the Beauty of the Forest.

Winter snows still blanket the mountains, but the conditions on this spring afternoon at Jackson Lake were pleasant, a unique contrast in temperatures at this lovely spot between the mountains and deserts. Photo from April 2020.

Knowledgeable Angelinos know that L.A. County is more than cities and endless suburbia. The most populous county in the United States also includes around 700,000 acres of mountain and forest land, largely undeveloped and protected for more than a century as the Angeles National Forest.

Rising to altitudes exceeding 10,000 feet, the granite facade of the San Gabriel Mountains so readily visible in the San Gabriel Valley and other eastern Los Angeles County communities is the backbone of this expansive nature preserve.

Unlike the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains further east, the San Gabriels lack significant communities (except for Wrightwood, a town of 5,000 people and the site of Mountain High Ski Resort), but still welcome L.A. County residents and visitors alike to dozens of campsites, picnic areas, hiking trails, and stunning viewpoint areas. Continue reading

The Cajon Pass is More Than a Route Between the Southland and Las Vegas. It’s a Great Place to Explore on the Way.

Spring flowers in front of the sandstone face of the Mormon Rocks in Cajon Pass. Photo from April 2020. 

Since its construction in 1969, the I-15 through the Cajon Pass is one of the busiest vehicle and truck routes in the United States, serving as the gateway to Las Vegas for hundreds of thousands of Southern California weekend warriors and holidaymakers and one of two routes to points north for residents of the sprawling Los Angeles metropolis.

For most, the pass, which reaches an altitude of 4,190 feet, is at best a short stop for gas or food on the way to a destination further afield.

But on a good weather day (which means not snowy or rainy, and not a day when the infamous Santa Ana winds are blowing), the Cajon Pass can be a day trip destination in its own right for Southern Californians, or can serve as a diversion of at least a few hours while passing through.

Dining choices include Del Taco, Subway and McDonalds.

Continue reading

Get Up Close to the San Andreas Fault – And Enjoy Stunning Views – At Highland’s Natural Parkland

The Santa Ana River floodplain in the distance and the sharp scarps of the San Andreas fault in the foreground at Highland’s Natural Parkland. Photo from March 2020

Extending about 800 miles through California, the San Andreas fault is the most famous seismic plate boundary in the world, and the threat of a major quake on any of the fault’s segments is among the greatest nightmares for Californians.


While some seismologists actually worry more about smaller but more geographically dangerous fault systems under Los Angeles or major cities elsewhere in the United States, the San Andreas will likely always be the most visible symbol of Earthquake Country in the U.S. Continue reading

The Solitude of the High Desert Offers a Welcome Contrast to a World Upended by Coronavirus

A train passes by amidst the otherwise quiet Mojave River canyon at Rockview Nature Park near Victorville. Photo from March 2020

With California and most of the Western world restricted amidst the coronavirus pandemic, residents of the Golden State can be thankful that they can still engage in outdoor activities such as hiking, bicycling and equestrian riding, as long as social distancing is maintained.

A welcome contrast from the Southland’s urban spaces eerily transformed by coronavirus is the solitude of the High Desert, where higher altitude, dry conditions and better air quality combine to create for a more healthful environment – both mentally and physically.

Rockview Nature Park

Among the many short day hikes in the Victorville region is Rockview Nature Park at 17800 National Trails Highway. Continue reading

Exploring Julian, San Diego’s Historic Gold Mining and Apple Town

Main Street in Julian on Super Bowl Sunday 2020.

I’ve often pondered that I could live an entire lifetime never leaving San Diego County and still feel fulfilled by the diversity of things to see and do. While millions of tourists frequent the county’s cities each year for world-class recreation, another side of California’s southernmost coastal county exists in the mountains that form San Diego’s eastern skyline.

The most accessible and developed destination in the San Diego County mountains (known as the Laguna Mountains) is Julian, a town of 1,500 people situated at an altitude of 4,226 feet famous for its locally-grown fruit pies, quaint 19th century downtown, gold mining history and unique four-seasons scenery.

Julian’s altitude corresponds to some extent with Oak Glen, Idyllwild, Mt. Baldy Village, Crestline and the Ortega Highway further north, which translates into an idyllic setting of both deciduous and evergreen trees and a climate that occasionally brings winter snowfalls, but avoids the more extreme cold snaps of higher altitude climes such as Big Bear Lake.

Well removed from the smog of the major cities, a visit to Julian is likely to feel like a breath of fresh air – figuratively and literally – to most Southlanders. Continue reading

My Hometown’s Sears is Closing on Super Bowl Sunday. The Retailer’s Presence in Riverside Predated the Great Depression.

The Sears store on Arlington Ave. in Riverside with a store closing sign. Photo from Jan. 2020

For more than 90 years, Sears department store has been a staple for generations of Riversiders, including me and my parents. But after surviving the Great Depression, two world wars, several economic recessions, and the suburban transformation of the Inland Empire, the only Sears location in my hometown is scheduled to close for good on Feb. 2, a victim of the retail chain’s sharp downsizing.

Unlike many Sears locations, Riverside’s store at 5261 Arlington Avenue is free standing, surrounded with more than ample parking and forming the heart of a neighborhood business district, accessible by several bus lines and one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Continue reading